I almost met Roger Angell.
As an aspiring baseball writer, and specifically as a young man who never fancied himself as a reporter or a beat writer but still wants to tell baseball’s stories, the chance to meet Angell is the chance to meet the best there ever was.
I didn’t take that chance.
I made my first trip to Cooperstown this weekend for the MLB Hall of Fame inductions. For me the main event was Greg Maddux’s induction, the trip a gift from my parents as my mom and I made a once-in-a-lifetime trip to see one of our favorite players officially introduced as a Hall of Famer. It was a bonus, then, that Angell was honored as the J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner that same weekend.
There I was, in the Hall of Fame Gallery for the first time in my life, standing in awe, still processing the astounding simplicity of the plaques for the first class ever inducted. At the bottom of Christy Mathewson’s plaque it reads: “Matty was master of them all.” I probably stood there for five minutes straight, admiring that plaque and what Mathewson and the other first inductees meant to baseball.
Experiencing the unique joy of that moment as I walked away, I looked to my right and saw Roger Angell. There he sat, the legendary baseball writer himself, talking to a man with a tape recorder.
Taken aback and unsure if I should say anything, I did what any reasonable person would have done: I kind of started stalking him. At 93 years old, Angell sat with his petite frame, legs crossed, and the same blue baseball cap on his head that he had worn the day before when accepting the Spink Award at Doubleday Field.
Lurking, pretending to ponder which section of the gallery to admire next, I wondered if I should say something or not. Would it bother him if I just quickly said I wanted to meet him and thank him? Would that be even close to good enough for a writer who had so inspired me and countless others?
I really started to dig into Angell’s work as a graduate student as I researched and wrote my final project. Angell’s essays provided me with material to analyze and consider, but they also served as a constant reminder of the dream job that I was pursuing and continue to pursue. Despite having been beaten down and left heartbroken by baseball as a player, the ultimate outcome for so many of us, I still couldn’t help being drawn back to the game I loved.
For some reason I am still giving baseball a chance, investing in its history and its stories as an aspiring writer. Angell’s work reminded me why each and every time I read it.
Nobody better captures the nuances of baseball, the wrinkles of what happens and the characters who are involved in this familiar and aesthetically pleasing game of ours. Nobody teases out those stories and captures the greatness of baseball’s teams, players, and moments better than Angell. If you forget why you love baseball, this cruel, beautiful game, then reading one of Angell’s pieces will remind you.
Now I had the chance to walk up to the man and tell him all of that or some clumsy version of it.
As I nervously mulled over the situation, apprehensive that it would be inappropriate to walk up and address him that way, a woman in a sky blue shirt, complete with touristy lanyard and bucket hat, interrupted Angell to offer her own appreciation. She said nothing of being an aspiring writer, presumably having the good sense of choosing a more sensible and profitable career path, but did thank Angell for his beautiful writing.
As far I could tell, Angell appreciated the compliments but then he also moved on immediately to a certain plaque to which he pointed as part of his ongoing conversation with a gentleman who appeared to be writing a piece about him.
Now on his feet, leaning ever so slightly on his walking cane, Angell moved to a specific section and started telling stories. I wish I knew what those stories were, and goodness knows I shamelessly tried to eavesdrop, but the combination of Angell’s soft voice and the loud murmur of a pre-induction ceremony crowd in the gallery made it impossible to hear.
Concerned that the gentleman with whom Angell was speaking or some other observer would note that I had sort of been following him for a few minutes at that point, I gave up my eavesdropping efforts. It wasn’t easy to move on, however, as I was already awash with baseball romanticism and just wanted to hear a line or two of what Angell was saying.
Then came the decision. The final opportunity to either say something or let the moment pass.
Knowing that Angell is 93 years old weighed on my mind. While one never knows how these things will go, I feel safe in assuming that this would be my first, last, and only chance to ever speak to Angell in person.
I let that chance pass.
I cannot totally explain why, but it is any combination of my personality, the fact that a small part of me thought it would be rude, and the notion that I could never properly articulate what Angell’s work has meant to me in an unsteady one-minute conversation.
Those might all be lousy reasons not to just take the chance and go for it, but in the end I think it was fitting.
I think, or at least I hope, that the memory of simply being in the Gallery at the same time as Angell will be enough. I know, or at least I think I know, that I was in the Gallery reflecting on baseball’s incredible history at a specific moment in time when Angell was doing the same. That in itself is pretty special, and it is something I can take with me as I hope to affect writers with my work over the course of time, remembering what it meant to me to simply see Angell among the plaques of baseball’s all-time greats.
At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself so I don’t regret walking up and talking to him.